Gaspard’s Christmas

Gaspard’s Christmas
Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew

The enormously popular fox Gaspard returns in his fourth adventure, the proceeds from which will go to St. Martin-in-the-Fields Charity that helps the homeless.

When out hunting for food one bitterly cold night near to Christmas, Gaspard comes upon what he thinks is a bulky black bag in a bus shelter. On investigation he discovers an old man with a white beard wearing a black overcoat who is obviously freezing. He quickly realises that the man needs help and goes off in search of assistance, calling on his friends Flinty the dog and Peter the cat before returning and attempting to warm the man whose condition has clearly deteriorated.

The savvy creatures investigate and find that the old man’s name is Nikolas and off rushes Flinty to find her person. Then together Honey and Flinty struggle through the streets back to Nikolas and the other animals.

Eventually back in the church, the old man is given a meal, clean clothes and a warm shower, and later a special temporary role at the shelter party.

Despite being given a small reward each, Peter, Flinty and Gaspard understand that their true reward is the knowledge that their kind and speedy actions have saved someone’s life.

Such a vital message about selflessness and a thought-provoking story about the importance of showing kindness to those less well off than ourselves. I love James Mayhew’s painterly, detailed illustrations that, as always in this series, are infused with loving concern.

Hugg ‘n’ Bugg Finding Home

Hugg ’n’ Bugg Finding Home
Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke

High in the Himalayas lives Bugg, a mountain flea. Unlike most of the other creatures living in this chilly location, Bugg does not like the freezing climatic conditions and so decides to search for somewhere warm to shelter. The sight of him bobble-hatted and carrying a load on his back is hilarious. First a lost sock and then a stinky boot, offer temporary accommodation and then he quickly rejects the bat-filled cave. Eventually, after a series of other unsuitable stops, Bugg takes a huge leap, landing somewhere promising at last – in the fur of the Abominable Snowman, aka Hugg. This huge creature introduces itself as “Bummy Nubble Snowman” going on to explain that on account of his looks he keeps himself hidden on the highest ground. Bugg offers to look after the Yeti in return for a home in his warm hair and a deal is done.

A deal that leads to the most unlikely of friendships and some tonsorial treats for Hugg.

Totally crazy and hugely entertaining is this latest Brown/ Clarke collaboration, the first of a new series with a theme of mutual friendship, it offers some vital lessons to young audiences. Ian Brown’s terrific talent for story-telling in combination with Eoin Clarke’s comical illustrations make this a read aloud, which despite its chilly setting, leaves a warm feeling within.

Anyone But Bear / Albert in the Air

Anyone But Bear
Suzy Senior and Dubravka Kolanovic
Scamp Publishing

Fox is excitedly making plans to host a moonlight party. He starts compiling his invitation list – Deer? – tick, Squirrel?- tick. Bear? Definitely not. Off trots Fox still planning in his head when suddenly rocks cascade down the mountainside, some of which smash straight into the party planner.

Fox is left flat out on the path-side unable to move. Several hours later, along comes Deer: help at last thinks Fox now awake and all too aware of his injuries. However, with a look of disgust, Deer turns away and takes an alternative route to avoid passing the injured creature. As snowflakes begin to fall along scampers Squirrel carrying nuts but he too decides not to stop. Seemingly the safety of his nuts is more important than that of a fellow forest creature.

Fox begins to despair but then round the corner comes someone massive, someone with large paws and a hairy scary face. Oh no! Soon though, Fox’s fear dissipates as he sees not the scary countenance he first thought but a kindly caring one. So kind and caring that he takes Fox all the way back home to his den; not only that but Bear brings him sustenance and takes care of the little fox cubs and their parent all through the night. This selfless act is one that Fox will remember always.

Based on the parable of the Good Samaritan, Suzy’s story, with Dubravka Kolanovic’s splendidly expressive illustrations will certainly make youngsters think about the meaning of real friendship.

Albert in the Air
Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke

Albert the tortoise’s latest adventure sees him first wishing to emulate his winged friends and then, tunnelling his way beneath the garden fence into the next door garden and wandering out into the hubbub of the territory beyond. It’s there, while foraging among the piles of trash that he unintentionally finds that his wish is actually being fulfilled. The wind lifts a balloon entangled Albert skywards and he gets a tortoise-eye view of the sprawling urban landscape beneath him.

Meanwhile back on home territory, the other creatures are missing their friend and enlist the help of the birds to search for Albert. Will they return him safe and sound? 

The answer is yes, with the timely assistance of a bee and he makes his return felt in a rather noisy manner.

An amusing demonstration that the grass most definitely is not always greener and perhaps home is the best place to be. With its humorous ending and stand out illustrations, Albert’s new story is sure to please his numerous fans and will likely win him some more followers too. Don’t forget to peruse the information spread at the back of the book.

Goodbye Hobbs

Goodbye Hobbs
Emma Bettridge and Josephine Birch

Based on real life events of love, loss and grieving, the author offers a dog’s eye view of losing a very dear friend. It’s with great reluctance, that Merlin eventually follows his owner out of the house for a walk to the shops. It’s hard for him to do so without Hobbs, his gentle black Labrador best friend.

As they walk, Merlin catches the scent of something on the wind and following his nose he detects a message asking ‘ … How are you today?’ but the message is incomplete. Merlin sniffs again and again as they continue walking and he finally stops beneath a weeping willow tree beside the river. ‘I just wanted to tell you that I am OK. It was time for me to go away. I love you. If you need me …’ Again the message stops mid-sentence.

On the two go, Merlin sniffing and gathering pace as he and his human head through the woods, back towards the village, bound for home.

Still sniffing and alert to any message, Merlin finally receives the words he needs so much. Words that will help him cope with those feelings of near despair as little by little he accepts that although his belloved Hobbs is no longer present in a physical form, he remains in the form of memories of the wonderful times the two have shared over the years together.

Josephine Birch’s painterly illustrations of the walk capture the complex emotions of Merlin. Her initial sombre colour palette changes to one of warm autumnal shades, and her subdued brush strokes become more exuberant as his mood lifts with each new discovery of his friend’s scented messages.

A helpful book for any parents or educators wanting something to help explain the feelings surrounding the loss of a loved one.

Fletcher and the Stars / The Winter Dragon

Fletcher and the Stars
Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke

The fourth Fletcher story in the Four Seasons series is a wonderful wintry one.

One chilly night as Fletcher sits at the entrance to his den gazing up at the glittering stars, they begin to disappear. Concerned, he calls to tell his Mum but she assures him that they are just covered by cloud. However, he remains worried and can’t sleep. Instead he creeps out, determined to save the stars and before long he hears a snuffling sound. It’s a badger cub that says she’s afraid of the dark and is hiding till the stars return. Encouraged by Fletcher, Badger climbs onto his shoulders and twiggy branch in paw begins swish sweeping across the sky, but of shining stars there is no sign.
Next they try from up among the branches of a tree. That only succeeds in waking sleeping Squirrel; Squirrel offers to use his tail but to no avail. Can Owl sweep away those clouds?

The others wait snuggled up in a hollow in Owl’s tree and eventually fall asleep. When Owl returns having tried her best, Fletcher is down hearted at her news. But then at least Badger has some good news: she’s no longer afraid of the dark. Fletcher and Badger then tuck Owl into her tree once more and depart in the hope that by the time she wakes, their mission to reveal those stars again will have been successful.

Up the windy hill they climb and begin to puff. I wonder what will happen …

It’s a delight to be back in the company of Fletcher with his determination, consideration for his friends and passion for the natural world. Tiphanie Beeke’s gorgeous illustrations, glow even brighter than ever in this story as they evoke so well the icy winter’s night and the feelings of the animal friends. What a perfect match for Julia Rawlinson’s equally evocative, poetic text. Snuggle up and share this with young children at home or in school.

The Winter Dragon
Caroline Pitcher and Sophy Williams

Young Rory hates the long dark winter nights imagining them to be the time when hidden demons lurking in the shadows come creeping out. But Rory has recently made a model dragon from his craft materials and one night as he cowers beneath the bedcovers he hears a strange growling sound.
Peeping out cautiously he finds his dragon glowing like a nightlight, keeping away the dark and using its hot breath to warm his bed and his slippers and his bathwater.

Each night the dragon returns to warm him with tales of bravery with blazing fires, jewels hidden beneath the earth, elf kings, knights and dragons. With every visit Rory and the Winter Dragon together ‘banish the demons of the dark’ enabling the boy, his heart filled with the dragon’s stories, to sleep soundly, unafraid.

With the coming of Spring, Rory knows in his heart that it’s time for him and his dragon to bid one another farewell and one night safe in the knowledge that his friend will always be there should Rory need him, he watches the dragon leave, bound once again for his own world again.

With a gentle sprinkling of fantasy, Caroline Pitcher ’s lyrical telling combined with Sophy Williams’ soft focus, realistic illustrations highlight one little boy’s battle with his fears and his growing courage.

Invertebrates Are Cool! / Slow Down and Be Here Now

Invertebrates Are Cool!
Nicola Davies and Abbie Cameron

In author Nicola Davies’s latest Animal Surprises book, she takes us in the company of a young naturalist, on an exploration of the world of bugs, mini-beasts and some sea creatures too. In case you are wondering what all these might have in common, it’s that every one of the animals featured lacks a backbone. First of all we get close up to some earthworms, find out how to make a simple wormery and watch the clever tunnellers at work. Next come the slitherers with slimy undersides – snails and slugs.

It’s strange to realise that these are cousins to cuttlefish, squid, nautilus and even more astonishingly, the octopus.

Beetles are the next focus; did you know there are more than 400, 000 different kinds? Some such as ladybirds will be familiar, but readers may not have encountered chafer beetles or the devil’s coach horse, both of which are featured in Nicola’s rhyming narrative and Abbie Cameron’s illustrations. The latter are sufficiently detailed to enable identification of the creatures and on some spreads readers are able to get right up close to the featured animal.

There’s a final ‘match the animal to its home’ puzzle. A book that’s likely to nurture children’s interest in the natural world and whet their appetites to get outdoors and explore.

Slow Down and Be Here Now
Laura Brand, illustrated by Freya Hartas
Magic Cat Publishing

The author presents twenty awe inspiring events that take place in the natural world, each of which is a captivating reason to do as the title says, to slow right down and to be fully in the present, immersed in an amazing wild life happening. It’s as though time has been suspended as she presents each of these ‘moments’ in its allocated double spread, including a harvest mouse building a nest, a snail retracting into its shell when threatened by a predator, a goldfinch extracting seeds from a dry teasel head

and a frog sating its hunger by catching and swallowing a fly. Thus the reader is able to watch each occasion when they so choose, as they savour the words and study carefully Freya Hartas’s delicately detailed, sequential illustrations, which include occasional gently humorous anthropomorphic enhancements.

The text itself comprises a mix of easily digestible paragraphs of information, an on-going narrative and captions to the illustrations.

Not all the nature moments could be observed at first hand but anyone who follows the suggestions on the ‘Come Into the Here and Now’ pages, will likely encounter some of these wonders or indeed, chance upon opportunities of their own to observe moments of joy, awe and wonder.

Lord of the Forest

Lord of the Forest
Caroline Pitcher and Jackie Morris

‘Tiger was born fluffy and small, with his eyes tight shut.” So begins this gloriously lyrical fable about a tiger cub that doesn’t fully appreciate until he reaches maturity the meaning of his mother’s words, “The Lord of the Forest is …”.

Roaming the forest where all is new and exciting, or playing with his brothers, the little tiger’s focus is the sounds around: the sap rising in the trees, the slither of snakes, the Monkey’s whooping; he’s even aware of the curling of Chameleon’s tongue and little Gekko’s gulps, the flip of fish and Water-snake sliding down from the logs. His mother says, “When you don’t hear them, when silence burns and time stands still, then my son, be ready.” It’s then he’ll know the Lord of the Forest is present.

As he walks alone, grown considerably now, the tiger still listens and waits for the coming of the Lord of the Forest; but who is he? 

He asks the other forest creatures about this Lord, and the beautiful peacock, the rhinoceros and the enormous elephant all arrogantly claim the title belongs to them. However, Tiger understands that screeching, bellowing, roaring beasts such as these, couldn’t possibly be the one that his mother has readied him to meet. 

He continues searching but it’s not until he’s fully grown, with a mate and cubs of his own, that he discovers the identity of the beast he’s been seeking.

Elegance and humility reign both in Caroline Pitcher’s lyrical telling and Jackie Morris’s awesome art.
Jackie’s stunning watercolours immediately breath life into the creatures she portrays: the dignity and grace of the tiger in particular is palpable, while Caroline Pitcher’s poetic narrative truly transports us to the forest habitat with its magnificent sights and mellifluous sounds.

This enlarged edition of a book first published 18 years ago seems even more beautiful than the original. Sheer joy to read aloud, it’s one to add to family bookshelves and classroom collections.

Mouse & Mole Clink, Clank, Clunk!

Mouse & Mole Clink, Clank, Clunk!
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew

It’s always a pleasure to be in the company of Mouse and Mole and this book contains three brand new stories. In the first, Clink, Clank, Clunk, Mouse, relaxing in his hammock with a book suddenly hears a horrible noise coming from the direction of the shed. There he finds Mole tinkering with their motorbike. Informing his friend that one is supposed to do this from time to time, Mole proceeds to dismantle the entire machine and try as they might, the two just can’t put it back together. Along comes Fox who offers to take it off their hands giving them instead a balloon each. Is that the last the friends will see of that motorbike though?

Next, Mole is very troubled about the possibility of Something on the Roof, talking of sleepwalking, a bird nesting in the chimney and others of his thoughts. Can a ripe rosy apple help such notions to disappear?

In A Frisky Fluttery Ghost Mouse has to wait a very long time to share the crispy buttery toast he’s made for breakfast and so while his friend continues to slumber, he hangs out some washing. Once again Mole lets his thinking turn into worrying when he eventually wakes up, looks out of the window and even causes Mouse get an attack of the frights.

Just the thing to share with young children as well as for those beginning to read independently to try as a solo read. Either way, James Mayhew’s superbly expressive illustrations capture the ups and downs of the characters’ everyday life together just perfectly. A delight for both children and adults.

Finger Sports / Spin to Survive: Frozen Mountain

Finger Sports
Anna Bruder

Fun and creativity at your fingertips is on offer in Anna Bruder’s second set of interactive and inventive activities inspired by a range of sports. I suspect with the success of The Lionesses in the European Championships that many youngsters will turn first to finger football; or enthused by the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, perhaps finger athletics might be the first go to sport of the eight included. Make sure whichever one your participants engage in they remember to do some finger warm ups first as instructed by Anna.

Whoever thought that fingers could become so competitive – although that need not be the case; a challenge could be to make an activity co-operative if played with a friend or sibling. I wonder how that might work with the dog assault course. No matter what, a player’s dexterity is likely to be enhanced after participating in these playful sports be that at home or even in a school break. Anyone feel like an aerobics session?
A super little book to explore and share with and between youngsters.

Spin to Survive: Frozen Mountain
Emily Hawkins and R. Fresson
Wide Eyed Editions

This is a large format interactive game book wherein the reader embarks on a survival adventure story that unfolds after an emergency landing high in a remote Alpine mountain region and thence must make a series of life and death decisions to make it home.
The location is fraught with dangers of all kinds: you have to deal with blizzards, altitude sickness, an avalanche, frostbite, a bear attack, raging torrents, cross a glacier and that’s not all. There’s the necessity to find food and water, and navigating so you don’t become even more lost.

The text is full of survival information such as making a snow hole shelter where you can be safe and keep warm during a blizzard, how to judge distances and what to do when hiking in bear country. 

Then there’s the inbuilt lesson on the risk/luck relationship and the vital importance of making good decisions when in a mountain region with life threatening situations to face. Having made your choice when faced with each threat, your decision is further tested by using the pop-out spinner provided, which acts as a pointer to the idea that there is always an element of chance in dangerous situations.

As well as Fresson’s Hergé-like illustrations showing the drama of the journey, each spread contains diagrams and there are insets of newspaper clippings featuring real-life survivors too. 

Very engaging, lots of fun and with a large amount of factual information, this book provides a great way to spend time away from screens.

Snakes on the Job / Ebb and Flo and the Greedy Gulls

Snakes on the Job
Kathryn Dennis
Walker Books

The Snakes on a Train have become construction vehicle operators in charge of a variety of vehicles – bulldozers, diggers, dump trucks, loaders, cranes and more. ‘They slide into trucks and roll out slow. Hisssssssssssss goes the sound of the brakes.’

Midway through the operation, up rolls a food truck to provide lunch for the workers then it’s back to work once again.
The fruits of their labours is a wonderful surprise revealed just before the end of the story and it looks such a terrific endeavour that some friendly hamsters want to join the fun. What will the response of the snakes be? …
With that repeat sibilant sound and other wordplay, this is an enjoyable read aloud for little ones. They’ll love the bright digital art and the simple tale wherein teamwork is paramount. One to add to your nursery collection or home shelves if you have very young children,

Ebb and Flo and the Greedy Gulls
Jane Simmons

Jane Simmons is a brilliant illustrator and it’s really good to see Graffeg gradually bringing this series with its hugely likeable Ebb and Flo characters back into print. As always there are small disasters – in this instance Ebb gets wrongly blamed for consuming all the sandwiches during the beach picnic. Inevitably the dog is upset and goes off to sulk in her favourite place. Eventually Mum and Flo realise who the real sandwich snatchers are but by this time Ebb has drifted out to sea in the boat. Sulking certainly hasn’t paid off, but will Ebb reach the shore safely? Let’s just say, all’s well that ends well: three characters have learned a lesson but not so the marauding picnic pinchers.

Molly and the Dolphins / I See the Sea

Molly and the Dolphins
Malachi Doyle and Andrew Whitson

In Molly’s sixth adventure she receives a very special present from her father: a lovely little dinghy that she names The Mermaid. Every morning the two set out in it and Molly learns how to read the wind, trim the sails and ride the waves; however her father begs that she doesn’t try sailing solo until he’s sure she’s ready. One day when out together Molly spies a pod of dolphins and they surround their boat. One dolphin Molly names Dot swims with them every day. Later on though, she’s joined by a tiny dolphin: Dot has a baby.

Eventually Molly’s father declares that she’s ready to sail solo and under his watchful eye off she sets, just her, her boat and the birds under the sky. Suddenly she notices that something untoward has happened to her dolphin friend: the baby is caught up in a fishing net.

Fortunately Molly’s father is able to free it, then throughout the summer Molly shows her human friends Dylan and Amina how to sail while the dolphins play around their boat. A wonderful season passes all too soon and then come the darker, shorter days and Molly realises there are no dolphins.

Suddenly the wind changes direction taking girl and boat far from home. Now Molly is in need of help: how will she find her way back to the safety of the harbour?

With dramatic illustrations and an important ecological message, this is another treat from team Doyle and Whitson.

I See the Sea
Julia Groves
Child’s Play

The eye staring out from the front cover of this book is repeated by use of a die-cut connecting hole, which builds up creating concentric circles that form a part of different sea creatures when the pages are turned as readers participate in a game of aquatic I spy discovering in turn a whale, dolphins, an octopus, rays, a turtle, lobsters – nocturnal hunters they, squid, shimmering seahorses,

more fish and finally plankton silently drifting. There is so much to see and enjoy in Julia’s illustrations for this ocean foray that truly captures its awesomeness and majesty while her lyrical narrative beginning ‘I SEE’ on each spread evokes the wonders of the diverse marine life and flows beautifully from one spread to the next throughout.

Backmatter comprises further information about each of the creatures depicted and about environmental threats to our oceans and many of the species completes this strikingly beautiful picture book. It’s surely one that will both capture the imaginations of child readers and at the same time, inspire them to find out more about the astonishing life beneath the waves.

Imagine Eating Lemons / Sometimes I’m a Baby Bear Sometimes I’m a Snail

Imagine Eating Lemons
Jason Rhodes and Richard Dearing

In recent years there has been increased concern about the mental well-being of youngsters and what can be done to help reduce their anxieties. As a yoga teacher I know well how mindfulness techniques can have a positive effect on both mental and physical health, so with this in mind it’s time to introduce Chester Chestnut.

In his decidedly mucky dungarees, cheerful little chap Chester Chestnut stands at the ready to guide young children through an introduction to mindfulness. He’s a character they’ll find easy to relate to and now he’s starting school – the only one doing so – he’s feeling anxious. Supposing he’s too shy to play and so won’t make any friends? Following a tumble, Chester picks himself up sits down and begins to breathe slowly and deeply, focussing on the various feelings as he scans his body, and paying attention to the sounds he can hear. 

‘Imagine eating lemons and your mouth will think it’s real.” Now he feels much calmer, he can think about lots of positive and playful ideas.

The weeks pass; a new worry arises as he plays with his friends. Suppose when he’s participating in that talent show something goes wrong? Time to remember those calming techniques Chester. In his rhythmic, rhyming text, Jason Rhodes now describes the sounds of the trees, the bees and the birdsong and gives a reminder about those lemons,

so that in addition to Chester, readers/listeners will know what to do to conquer those fears, and why to do it, then and throughout the rest of the story. Richard Dearing’s illustrations give the story a slightly whimsical feel almost as though it’s set in a world of faerie.

The final page gives half a dozen things to remember about feelings and the practice of mindfulness. You try imagining eating a lemon and see what happens.

A book that is well worth having for home and school use.

Sometimes I’m a Baby Bear, Sometimes I’m a Snail
Moira Butterfield and Gwen Millward
Welbeck Editions

Embracing an entire gamut of childhood emotions, author Moira Butterfield uses different animals to explore and help little ones understand their feelings.

Whether it’s a bouncy puppy full of fun and wanting to play with others; a snail inside its shell ‘I’d rather be quiet and on my own. / I’m fine playing games alone.’ (I love that);

or perhaps a hug-loving baby bear, or no-hug bird, a blowfish blowing kisses instead of giving hugs; even a fearless lion expressing itself through a roar, it’s absolutely fine,

as are those scared, tiny mouse feelings about trying something tricky.

We all experience different emotions at times and it’s perfectly OK to feel that way: you can turn down a hug till another day, or feel happy in some solo play, as might some of your friends or siblings, so assures Moira in her appealing rhyming narrative. All these feelings are illustrated in Gwen Millward’s brightly coloured, equally appealing art showing the humans and animals with similar expressions and body language.

There’s a final spread giving advice to adults suggesting ways to use the book and providing helpful information about teaching children to identify, name and understand their feelings. This book developed with the support of a child psychologist is one to use in the foundation stage and with little ones at home.

Supermouse and the Volcano of Doom / Ebb and Flo and the Baby Seal

Supermouse and the Volcano of Doom
M.N. Tahl and Mark Chambers
Little Tiger

In case you didn’t make the acquaintance of Supermouse in his previous adventure, Peter Parmesan is no ordinary mouse. When disaster strikes, Peter morphs into Supermouse ready to save the day.
Now along with the regular news of crooks creating chaos comes news of the imminent eruption of Mount Fondue, way too big a task for our hero to handle entirely alone. So, he decides to hold auditions for ‘The League of Remarkable Rodents’ but none of the many that show up for the audition are sufficiently remarkable. Supermouse must face the volcano of doom alone.

As he starts to investigate this hot, hot mountain, there’s a sudden SPLAT that sends our hero skywards. However, refusing to be overcome he fights with all his might to fend off the fiery onslaught until disaster strikes in the form of hot molten cheese.

Is there anyone that could help rescue Supermouse and in so doing save the city? You never know: assistance sometimes comes from an unlikely source.

With its plethora of flaps to explore, speech bubbles, peep-through pages aplenty, wealth of wordplay and rodents of several kinds, this madcap superhero romp will go down well with young would-be superhero humans. They’ll absolutely relish Mark Chambers’ zany action-packed illustrations, that’s for sure.

Ebb and Flo and the Baby Seal
Jane Simmons

As Ebb sits listening to the pitter patter of the rain she hears a ‘Wah! Wah!’ coming from the direction of the beach. Off she dashes and there she discovers a baby seal – a playmate at last.After a day romping on the beach and in the waves, a hungry Ebb decides to head home; the little seal tries to follow. Ebb realises that it needs help, seeks the assistance of Mum and Flo

and eventually together they find a way to reunite the baby with its mother.

Jane Simmons’ misty watercolour illustrations evoke the seaside setting beautifully in this third reissue in a wonderful series that, with themes of kindness and teamwork, is as relevant now as twenty years back when the book was originally published.

The Invention

The Invention
Julia Hubery and James Munro

How do you get all the seemingly exceedingly busy people who live in the same block of flats as you do to take time to interact with one another? That’s what Fili, who lives in said flats with her caretaker Dad wonders as she watches their comings and goings with barely a ‘hello’ being spoken day in day out.

However young Fili isn’t one to feel sad and do nothing about the situation; instead she thinks further, talks with her Dad and then sets to work, making … an Invention, As yet she’s unable to explain how it works, nor what it does 

but what is evident is that it keeps getting larger and larger and everybody is interested in Fili’s mysterious creation. Eventually someone asks, ‘ … how will you know when it’s finished?’ Fili responds that she’ll need everyone’s help with that.

One day she delivers invitations to all the residents of their block, thus arousing further curiosity on their part. Needless to say the Invention party is well attended although at first the attendees are somewhat nonplussed at the Invention’s lack of action. 

Now Fili’s plan moves up a gear, “Will you help to start it?’ she asks. Immediately everybody begins twiddling and fiddling, and more importantly, giggling and chatting until finally …
There we have it: one little girl, one idea, one supportive parent, a lot of determination to build, not just her invention but a collaborative community.

James Munro’s superbly quirky illustrations are perfect for Julia Hubery’s straightforward droll telling about a child with a good idea, ingenuity and lots of determination, and the bringing together of people to form a real community.

Grow, Tree, Grow!

Grow, Tree, Grow!
Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou

The fifth in the Wild Wanderers series is every bit as good as the previous titles; in fact as trees are my number one thing in nature, this, with an Oak tree as its main focus is my favourite so far.

In his wonderful lyrical text Dom describes how in the forest as winter departs, an oak sapling is slowly growing to become Tree. All around minibeasts, rabbits and larger creatures are hunting for food to survive.

Many years later we see Tree has become a safe haven – ‘a canopy-guarder / a sanctuary for all to share.’ All being squirrels, woodpeckers, birds, bats, spiders and badgers. 

Growing in the forest too are other trees – chestnut, ash and beech, each helping to keep the atmosphere clean, … ‘and branch is to sky / as root is to earth so // grow, Tree, grow!’ urges the narrative.

Seasons come and go bringing changes in the form of acorns within each of which lies another potential oak, but squirrels have designs on these goodies so Tree must make more and yet more till they’re ready to fall. The ground though is shared with acorn-loving pigs but they are not the biggest danger: that is the people who chop down the precious trees to make room for towns full of houses, shops and traffic.

Is it possible that a thousand years have passed since Tree’s tiny sapling started to grow; it surely is, but nothing in nature lasts for ever. Even an oak as majestic, as awesome as Tree must eventually die and now its time has come so, ‘rest Tree, rest.’ while all around new life springs forth and the wondrous cycles of nature continue – each to each returns its need and life goes on.

The web of life that is harboured during the lifetime of an oak tree is brilliantly caught in Anastasia Izlesou’s intricate tracery of lines and shades of russets and greens. Simply gorgeous!

Bob the Dog Gets a Job

Bob the Dog Gets a Job
Tracey Hammett and Angie Stevens

Bob (actually female despite the name) is a dog that likes to keep busy; this perplexes her pal Pat the Cat.

One day Bob hears an ice-cream van outside and decides what a perfect job selling ice-cream would be. She trails the van to the local park where she discovers not one ice-cream van but a veritable fleet of them, as well as a poster announcing that an ice-cream festival is being held that very day.

Oh what delight, thinks Bob, anticipating the increased likelihood of obtaining a position as a vendor of ice cream. She asks around but to no avail

until she moves on to Mr Flaky’s van and again tries her luck.

Happily for Bob, Mr Flaky comes up with an offer, hands Bob the appropriate garments, gives a few important instructions and leaves her to it.

Before long eager customers roll up and things are going deliciously well. Then an entire soccer team rocks up, a very long queue quickly forms and before you can say cornetto, the very last cone has been used. Furthermore the control switch to turn off the flow of ice-cream has started to malfunction. Can some quick and creative thinking on Bob’s part save the day?

It more than does, but to find out how this yummy story ends, you’ll just have to join the queue and buy a copy of the book. Anyone for ice-cream?

For sure, through their combination of playful narrative and comical illustrations, author Tracey Hammett and illustrator Angie Stevens have served up a treat with this one. As well as making readers and listeners laugh it will assuredly, make their mouths water.

Move Mountain / Ebb and Flo and the Sea Monster

Move Mountain
Corrinne Averiss and Greg McLeod
Oxford Children’s Books

Although the hills around Mountain receive the sun’s rays each morning, because the sun always rises behind him, his face stays in the shade. So much does he long to feel sun’s beaming warmth that he tells Bird he wishes he were able to turn around. Bird flies off to seek help from Bear and the two of them push with all their might but Mountain remains firmly as he was.

Other ideas are tried including the use of music for conjuring up an image of the sun and although Mountain loves this, it only serves to make him want more than ever to see the sun rise.

However Bird has one last idea tucked beneath her feathers. Can this one possibly be a success?
Perhaps it’s not possible to move a mountain in the physical sense but nonetheless this particular Mountain is more than happy with what he sees at dawn next day.
This beautiful tale celebrates friendship, kindness, thinking outside the box and ingenuity. Truly the sun’s warm glow shines forth in Corrinne’s words and Greg McLeod’s gently humorous illustrations.

Ebb and Flo and the Sea Monster
Jane Simmons

As Flo sits with Granny sharing a local paper and focussing on a picture of Morgawr the mythical sea monster, Ebb’s ball bounces away and so begins this wonderful moonlit adventure as they search for the ball which goes overboard on their way home across the bay, and perhaps for a sighting of Morgawr too. But they find themselves marooned and have to camp put on the beach.

As Mum, Flo and Ebb gather around the fire, listen to nature’s sounds and stare out at the star-filled sky, they wonder about the enormous monster that might or might not be lying in wait for them somewhere out at sea. Later with Flo tucked up under a blanket, Mum has to leave the tent to collect more firewood. There in the shadows are Flo, Ebb, that bouncy ball – again – and the possibility of a scary monster lurking close at hand.

This latest of Jane Simmons’ modern classic rereleases, with its softly spoken words and beautifully hued, hazy illustrations will surely delight a new generation of young children as much as it did those who encountered Ebb and Flo over twenty years ago.

Fletcher and the Rockpool

Fletcher and the Rockpool
Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke

Summer has come, the ideal time for inquisitive young Fletcher fox and his mum to foray from their woodland home for a seaside visit.

While Mum makes a camp on the seashore, Fletcher heads down to the water’s edge, enjoying the feel of the sand beneath his paws and the waves splashing his toes. Coming upon a rockpool, he stretches himself out flat and gazes into the water observing the creatures and seaweed therein. Suddenly he notices that the pool is getting smaller and he’s concerned about the fate of the limpets and sea anemone. Unaware of the sea’s tidal ebb and flo phases, so misunderstanding what is happening, the helpful Fletcher dashes to and fro filling his bucket with water and tipping it into the seemingly ever shrinking rockpool.

His behaviour puzzles a watching seagull and it tries to tell him about the tide but Fletcher is distraught.

All he can do is save Little Crab he decides, so he takes it back up to where his Mum has made the camp, creates for it a seaweed blanket and falls asleep alongside the crustacean.

Imagine his surprise and joy when in the morning he finds …

Tiphanie Beeke’s soft glowing paintings (the final one with a sprinkling of silver) evoke both the seashore and Fletcher’s concerns about the rockpool fauna and flora and are a perfect match for Julia Rawlinson’s lyrical, wonderfully warm words as they both pay poetic tribute to the summery seaside.
I have no doubt this latest Fletcher story will resonate with young listeners, as well as introducing them to the idea of tidal movement.

George the Brave

George the Brave
Eva Papoušková and Galina Miklínová

It’s off to Australia for this tale of a little wombat called George. I learned something about wombats like George before reading the story book for there’s an information page at the start. Did you know that in addition to being protected by law on account of their rareness, wombats are able to protect themselves by thrusting their rear ends at an enemy.

Let’s meet our protagonist George, and his friends. Fred the Kangaroo, Annie the Goose and Lizzie the Mouse invite George to join them in some games one day. Having got permission from his parents and a warning to be on the lookout for possible dangers in the form of hungry predators, he demonstrates his life-saving moves and off he goes to the dark woods to meet his pals. Their first game is hide and seek and when it’s George’s turn to be the seeker, he hides his eyes and starts singing a little song. However upon uncovering them he finds himself face to face with Wilma the Fox. Eek!

Now Wilma is a sly creature with her mind on her next tasty meal. To that end she invites George to show her his home and when he wants to know why, she’s gets angry. After all an entire wombat family is much more satisfying that one little one.

George is suspicious and sensing danger, flees as fast as he can. The trouble is, Wilma too has fast paws and is hot on his trail. Now is the time for George to be truly brave and use that strong, bony bottom of his.

Is it enough to do the necessary? Let’s say that Wilma loses more than just a tasty meal on account of his bum-thrusting stance. 

And George? He’s learned an important life lesson about facing one’s fears – kind of!

Young children will relish George’s new story with its embedded wombat fact. With that big surprise, superb cross-hatched illustrations and dryly humorous text, it’s both lots of fun and informative. It also offers a good starting point for a circle time discussion about standing up for yourself.

Leilong’s Too Long! / Albert Supersize / Rita Wants a Genie

Leilong’s Too Long!
Julia Liu and Bei Lynn
Gecko Press

The endearing brontosaurus Leilong is acting as school bus for Max, Maggie, Mo and their friends, taking care where he puts his massive feet and sometimes pausing to fill up on grass cakes on the way. Despite him always looking out for those he might help 

too many accidents are happening on account of his enormousness and with them, numerous complaints and even fines. Consequently the school has to drop the dino-bus and poor Leilong is devastated. He goes off and hides away. Or so he thinks. Not for long though; perhaps with the help and kindness of his little human friends, there’s a new role for Leilong just waiting to be discovered.
Julia Liu’s text (translated by Helen Wang) and Bei Lynn’s child-like, cartoon style illustrations work in perfect harmony. The details in every spread are a delight – wonderfully expressive and playful. Whether or not you’ve encountered Leilong before, I’m sure he’ll win your heart.

Albert Supersize
Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke

Tortoise, Albert has big dreams – massive ones sometimes like the time he dreamt he came to the aid of roaring dinosaurs threatened by erupting volcanic action (no, not the type Albert is prone to emit from his rear end). On this occasion though, when he’s aroused from dreamland by his minibeast friends, Albert discovers he must come to their aid too: the roof of their flowerpot shelter is damaged and in need of repair.
Drawing upon his dream, slowly and carefully Albert does the necessary, making his friends very happy. 

“You might have BIG dreams, Albert, but you’re just the right size to help us,” a worm comments.
Full of gentle humour, kindness and creatures, this latest Albert episode told in Ian Brown’s dramatic style and with Eoin Clarke’s hilarious illustrations is every bit as entertaining as ever.

If you’ve yet to meet Albert, I recommend you do so; at the back of the book you can even find out about the real Albert that inspired the author to tell these stories.

Rita wants a Genie
Máire Zeph and Mr Ando

Young Rita’s at it again with those big ideas of hers. Now she wants a being that will, unquestioningly, carry out her every command. Uh-oh! Having contemplated all the possibilities that having a genie at her beck and call would bring, she realises that her latest flight of fancy might not be her wisest after all. For isn’t it so that a genie must obey the wishes of whomsoever rubs the lamp where it lives? …
Andrew Whitson aka Mr Ando transports readers along with Rita to a magical eastern land of golden palaces, peacocks, lush fruits and swirling sand in his scenes for this latest story in the series he co-creates with author Máire Zeph. It’s an important learning journey for the small protagonist and another fun fantasy to share with those around Rita’s age.

Esme and the Sabre-Toothed Cub / Rita Wants a Dragon

Esme and the Sabre-Toothed Cub
Simon Philip and Magda Brol
Oxford Children’s Books

Could it be that Esme’s best friend Morris the mammoth has his tusks put slightly out of joint when a little sabre-toothed tiger cub appears in the village and charms all the cave kids by its actions. Despite the adults having shooed it away on several consecutive days, Esme asks the visitor she’s named Seb, “Would you like to be my pet?” However, Seb is far from impressed at receiving one order after another from the little stone age girl who eventually gets the message that the creature has no intention of becoming anyone’s pet.

Morris however, decides that perhaps friendship could be the way to go and of course, Esme is eager to join in their fun and games, albeit from some way off. Then trouble rears its ferocious head.

Can Esme save the day and learn a thing or two as well?

With certain similarities to our 21st century world, Simon Philip’s second story of bossy young Esme and her fellow troglodytes is another humorous read aloud, made even more so by Magda Brol’s highly exuberant scenes of this endearing prehistoric community.

Rita Wants a Dragon
Máire Zepf and Mr Ando

In the fifth of this series starring the small girl with a huge imagination, young Rita is having a bad day. Everything is going wrong and she imagines a large fiery dragon to represent her angry feelings. However, even dragons can’t remain in an angry state all the time – it’s hugely exhausting to roar

and rant, stomp and stamp and breathe fiery flames so it’s as well that they can take flight and find somewhere alone to do some slow breathing to help that rage dissipate and to talk calmly about what has gone wrong. Then anger diffused, it’s time for a snuggly cuddle with a loving grown-up, a mum for example.

With powerful images created by Mr Ando on every spread, Máire Zeph’s tale of Rita’s challenging behaviour offers parents and educators in early years settings an enjoyable starting point for discussions about feelings of anger and how to cope with them.

Ebb and Flo and Their New Friend / The Tale of the Tiny Man

Ebb and Flo and Their New Friend
Jane Simmons

Jane Simmons’ books with their gorgeous, soft focus, painterly illustrations, were very popular with foundation stage classes in my early teaching days and it’s good to see Graffeg reintroducing Ebb and Flo to a new generation of young children.

For those unfamiliar with the characters and their adventures, Ebb is a dog and Flo a young girl. They live near the sea and are constant companions. As this story opens the two of them are sitting in their boat with Ebb in her favourite spot in the bow when suddenly her place is usurped by a large bird. Flo urges Ebb to accept the visitor as a friend but Ebb is anything but accepting of the newcomer with its frequent ‘beep, beep, beep’ sounds. 

As the days pass even Granny takes to Bird, giving it some of Ebb’s favourite snacks. 

Ebb wishes Bird gone and the following morning, to Flo’s disappointment, the wish has come true.

However, it quickly becomes an instance of you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, for Ebb finds herself missing Bird and that beeping, especially when as the summer days pass, they see reminders on their journeys along the river. 

Then one day, Ebb hears a familiar sound: could it be …

This gentle exploration of change, jealousy and the challenges of accepting a new friend into an established group, will resonate with many young listeners who will likely look forward to hearing more about Ebb and Flo in the other titles Graffeg will also publish.

The Tale of the Tiny Man
Barbro Lindgren (translated by Julia Marshall), illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

This is a re-illustrated classic tale from Sweden originally published over thirty years ago. It tells of a tiny and sad man who lives a very lonely life ignored and sometimes mistreated by other people perhaps because ‘he was too small and possibly a bit slow.’
One day as spring approaches he attaches a note to a tree ‘Friend Wanted’ and giving his name and address. For ten days he waits, sitting on his doorstep by day, and crying at night on account of the blackbirds’ song. Then on the tenth night he’s dozed off only to be awakened by a large and playful stray dog.
Little by little over the next few days, the tiny man’s kind actions gain the animal’s friendship and trust. It moves in to share the man’s house, his food and even his bedroom. 

When they’re out and about, the dog protects the tiny man from bullies.

By summer life together is happy for both tiny man and big dog. Come the following spring however, a cheerful little girl comes along and she too makes friends with the dog causing the tiny man to feel left out and hurt. 

Convinced he can’t compete with the little girl, full of sorrow the tiny man wanders off into the woods. For seven days he roams alone; meanwhile dog and child sit on the steps wondering where the man has gone. On the eighth day the tiny man returns to find on his doorstep, a dejected dog and an equally dejected little girl. Can it be that this friendship can accommodate three? Is there room in dog’s heart for two human friends and in the tiny man’s heart for the dog and the girl?

With its themes of loneliness and friendship, this beautifully told and illustrated story looks at various emotions including empathy, loneliness and prejudice. Whether read alone or aloud, there’s much to think about and one hopes, talk about with family members and/or classmates.

Fred and the Fantastic Tub-Tub

Fred and the Fantastic Tub-Tub
Zeb Soanes, illustrated by Anja Uhren

Fred is staying with her grandfather in the countryside for the summer holidays. Grandpa is a botanist who lives in a messy farmhouse around which are dilapidated greenhouses housing all manner of plants from all over the world. Imagine her surprise when one night she hears a banging sound outside and when she investigates, discovers her Grandpa attached to a sausage-shaped balloon.

Even more surprising is his announcement that this contraption is to take them to Papa Nupi a distant island whereon it’s said the rare Tub-Tub plant grows. This plant blooms just once every two hundred years when it is reputed to produce the most amazing music.The last time it bloomed was two hundred years ago the following week so time is of the essence and as Grandpa says, “There’s no time like the present.”

So begins a magical adventure that embraces the threat plastic pollution poses to wildlife as well as showing the transformative possibilities of music and the difference one small hand held device can make.

Which all goes to show that Grandpa was absolutely right when he said at the start of this unusual story, “Music is a language everyone can understand.”

The engaging tale had its origins in a project between the author Zeb Soanes and composer James Marangone. The latter wanted to create an inclusive narrated adventure that inspired children to explore sound no matter their musical ability. To go alongside the music, Zeb included in his story ‘audio clues’ that children can listen for in the text.

With the addition of Anja Uhren’s fantastic quirky illustrations, this became a tale told through illustration, music and writing. The orchestral performance, which includes narration of the story by Zeb alongside James Marangone’s music, will be premiered by Orchestra Sinfonia later this year.

(Related facts and some suggestions for reusing plastic are given at the back of the book.)

Supertato The Great Eggscape! / Rita Wants a Fairy Godmother

These two picture books are additions to popular series:thanks to their publishers for sending them for review

Supertato The Great Eggscape!
Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

With chocolate and subterfuge at its heart is the latest Supertato episode. Easter is approaching as the story begins. The customers and staff have long since gone from the supermarket when the veggies discover that all the Easter eggs have vanished from the seasonal aisle. Immediately Supertato names his number one suspect: of course this is the work of Evil Pea.
Now, the dastardly character has barricaded himself inside his Easter egg castle.

Pretty quickly Supertato comes up with a plan to break in and liberate the chocolate from the fortress but will his disguise fool pea? Unfortunately not; Pea soon has Supertato held captive, which leaves the veggies to come up with their own rescue plan. What are the chances this one will work or will it be a case of foiled again?

Rita Wants a Fairy Godmother
Máire Zepf and Mr Ando

Getting dressed independently is one of those tasks that young children tend to struggle with and so it is with the endlessly imaginative Rita. In this the fourth book, the little girl entertains the possibilities that having her very own fairy godmother to act as personal dresser might mean. No more of those annoying ‘hurry up’ cries from her mum, no more struggles with sleeves or tussles with trousers. Instead, at the mere twirl of a wand she could wear the world’s most beautiful clothes no matter the occasion.
On the other hand, supposing said fairy godmother gave her inappropriate footwear 

or clothing and even worse, insisted on prettiness at the expense of fun …
Hmm! maybe that wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Like their previous books in the series Máire Zepf and Mr Ando’s godmother episode will be enjoyed by preschool children and I suspect adult sharers will have a good giggle over the two final spreads of Rita in action.

Octopants: The Missing Pirate Pants / Rita Wants a Ninja / Little Scoot

Octopants: The Missing Pirate Pants
Suzy Senior and Claire Powell
Little Tiger

There’s definitely a plethora of pants in this new story about Octopants (narrator) and his ocean pals Turtle and Pufferfish. It’s the latter who has lost his favourite pirate pants and to make him feel less glum Octopants organises an undersea search. Having drawn a blank in the usual places in town, the friends brave the wreck and there they come upon a pirate crew with a pirate party in full swing with pants simply everywhere.

But then who should show up unexpectedly out of the blue sporting a funky hat and asking to join the pirate crew …
This is a jaunty rhyming text that flows well, and vibrant illustrations with plenty of humorous details to make little humans laugh, but Suzy Senior’s tale contains a serious message too: appearances can be deceptive so don’t be too hasty to make a judgement. With young children, you really can’t go wrong with a story about underpants.

Rita Wants a Ninja
Máire Zeph and Mr Ando (Andrew Whitson)

Is there no end to Rita’s demands? Seemingly not for now a game of hide-and-seek with her smaller sibling fuels a desire for her very own martial arts expert in the form of a ninja. How wonderful to have someone to instruct her in the art of stealth and invisibility. She’d learn how to control both mind and body as well as those shouts used when on the attack. However invincibility ninja style seemingly comes at a price –

a very big price and one she definitely isn’t prepared to pay after all. So it’s a resounding NO! for a ninja master …
Andrew Whitson’s expansive, action-packed scenes of Rita’s imaginings take readers along with the two children, into verdant Japanese bamboo forests and snowy landscapes wherein lurk fighting ninja clans.

Little Scoot
Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Edson Ikê
Boyds Mills Press

Perseverance no matter how difficult the situation, is key in this vibrantly illustrated American import.
I was itching to tweak the beginning part of the rhyming text but like its little tugboat protagonist, I kept going, and happily it improved. Keeping going and not giving up is the essence of the tale of Little Scoot. Suddenly she receives an alarm call: a large barge is aground on a sandbank and in need of her help. With a gathering storm the tiny tugboat has to force herself forward, pushing through her fears and the splashing, sploshing waves, as she tries her level best to be brave. Eventually, there before her is the stranded Big Barge.
Will the tiny craft succeed in her rescue mission? Even in the most difficult situations, she certainly isn’t a quitter …

Albert Upside Down

Albert Upside Down
Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke

The latest episode in the life of my favourite tortoise Albert is full of action; not however that of the protagonist – he finds himself belly up after an unfortunate rock climbing episode undertaken in an attempt to reach a tasty treat. During his efforts to right himself the creature gives a big sigh that attracts the attention of a passing worm. Said worm stops to enquire about its cause and is soon joined not only by a second worm but also several ants. Both parties claim to be best at moving large objects and Albert suggests they work together to flip him over.

Before long it seems that the entire minibeast population has come together in the cause of operation Albert. They give it their all as they push and shove, lift and pull but the tortoise remains stuck, legs skywards. Maybe a food luring tactic might do it, but no, though it does serve to attract further attention in the form of a butterfly that offers to assist only to be given the push by a snooty snail on account of being too delicate.

Further shoving, pushing and lifting ensue to no avail so the workers pause for some silent thinking. That silence is broken by the voice of a young worm with a clever suggestion. Under the direction of the chief worm some concentrated team work begins and there’s some movement as Albert rolls slightly but not enough. More weight is required states another worm when suddenly what should return and land gently upon that snooty snail but the butterfly. Now she might just be the one to make all the difference …

And so she does but with Albert now back on his four feet, why are all those who came to his rescue making a hasty dash to put some distance between saved and savers. Hmmm! Seemingly it’s because Albert is his normal self once more and we know what that means …

Ian Brown’s story of struggles and strife, rivalry and ultimately, creative teamwork becomes a truly comic episode thanks in no small part to Eoin Clarke’s hilarious, detailed illustrations. In the style of Tolstoy’s Great Big Enormous Turnip tale that has become a classic, we see how just a tiny bit of additional assistance can make a huge difference.

This is sure to be a winner with young listeners either in the classroom or at home. Don’t miss the final facts page about the real Albert (inspirer of the tale) and his cousins.

Shine, Star, Shine!

Shine, Star, Shine!
Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou

This is the latest in the excellent Wild Wanderers series about various aspects of the natural world and it’s another wonderful book.

Deep in space from the heart of a nebula many stars are born: big stars and small stars each shining forth from millions of miles away across the universe, reaching out to us with their rays of colour. And so it is with our star, the Sun, enabler of life on planet Earth that shines down from 93 million miles away. She keeps us warm, causing changes in the weather; she makes the crops grow all over the world from Idaho to the Punjab, as well as all other planet life;

she pumps air from floating green ocean gardens giving rise to wind and creating clouds and sometimes, rainbows.
Beware though, sometimes the strength of her rays can cause damage for our star can also be a ‘world-burner’ but the world she reveals is mostly one of rich life and potential.

I love the way in which both poet author Conlon’s lyrical language and illustrator Izlesou’s atmospheric art both focus on this single star of ours, turning the otherwise ordinary into the truly extraordinary: truly a painting of words and pictures. Or rather a series of paintings that remind us of how our Earth moves around our Star and what that means for different environments; or shows the gradual change from day to night,

from season to season, through countless lives and trillions of years. It’s not until the final spreads that we are shown the night sky with its ‘trillions of stars with planets of their own whose stories are yet to be heard’. That too is something to ponder upon and perhaps dream about along with the small boy and the cat that we see throughout this powerfully beautiful book. It’s one that’s sure to provoke awe and wonder in young listeners.

Little Bunny’s Book of Friends

Little Bunny’s Book of Friends
Steve Smallman

I’m sure that since the publication of Steve’s Little Bunny’s Book of Thoughts, his adorable character has acquired enough friends to fill up countless books. However here is our long-eared Little Bunny to share with readers some of the joys that having friends can bring, be they big or small, especially when you’re feeling down.

A friend will offer a shoulder to cry on, hold you in their arms, front limbs, wings or whatever,

lend a listening ear so you can share your woes or have a little weep. Friends help you feel safe and ensure you never feel completely alone.

On the other hand, who better to share the good times with than those same friends? The very same ones who are prepared to tell you the occasional home truth but never judge you, rather they’ll always support you in being and becoming your very best self, there for them too.
What a clever little lapine our narrator is to share his thoughts on friendship entirely in rhyme, aided and abetted of course by Steve’s superb portrayal of the character’s wide range of emotions shown through both facial expressions and body language.

This is the perfect stocking filler, as well as a must buy for any one of your special friends who needs a bit of a boost.

Rita Wants a Robot / The Toys’ Christmas

Rita Wants a Robot
Màire Zeph and Mr Ando

Rita is a small girl with a big imagination and a head full of ideas. Her latest is a ‘super-sorting’ robot: something that would tidy up the ginormous messes she creates in her bedroom thus putting paid to mum’s repeated chastisements. There is a stipulation however; said robot mustn’t spoil Rita’s fun by creating hyper tidiness, so he’d need to know when enough was enough or risk her wrath. Of course, said robot would need to be an appreciator of wildlife, as well as never overstepping the mark, for doing so would land Rita in big trouble.

Then there are special considerations at the approach of the festive season: who would want a Christmas saboteur robot, albeit a well-intentioned one? Definitely not Rita: maybe time to have another think about the whole robot-sorting idea …

This is another fun episode in the imagined life of Rita conjured by author Màire Zeph and illustrator Andrew Whitson (Mr Ando) that will be enjoyed by youngsters around the age of the protagonist. This adult reviewer wouldn’t mind a brief visit from Rita’s super-sorting robot to work on my partner’s super messes, although it would need to be kept a close eye on, I suspect.

The Toys’ Christmas
Claire Clément and Geneviève Godbout
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

It’s Christmas Eve but rather than feeling excited, little Noah is very worried and upset: his favourite cuddlesome toy elephant Fanfan is nowhere to be found. Despite his mum’s reassurances that his absence is only temporary, Noah isn’t convinced.

Meanwhile, outside in the snow Fanfan is on his way to an important meeting when he hears a voice asking for help. It’s toy rabbit Mr Long Ears with a bad foot, upset at the possibility of not getting to the meeting on time and of course the kindly elephant offers him a lift and they reach the clearing where the other toys have gathered just in time for the long journey.

Why are they, along with toys from all over the world, out on this chilly night when they could be snuggled up with their children? 

They’re on a special mission to see Santa to tell him what their owners want for Christmas, but they also need to make sure they get back home in time for the big day.. What will Noah discover when he wakes on Christmas morning?

An unusual story illustrated in soft focus pastel by Geneviève Godbout whose art here has an olde-worlde charm.

Lo and Behold! Mouse & Mole

Lo and Behold! Mouse & Mole
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew

Brimming over with seasonal warmth and the spirit of friendship is author Joyce and artist James ‘ visit to the wonderful world of Mouse, Mole and their other animal friends.

The first of the three stories finds the two opening the curtains to discover a blanket of snow covering the ground outside. The prefect day for making a ‘snowsomething’ and so eager to enjoy the outdoors are they, that they eat their breakfast porridge on the doorstep. Then it’s time for some games before meeting up with Rabbit, Rat, Hedgehog and Owl for a spot of sledging.

‘Snowsomething’ building is next and they have to wait until it’s dressed before deciding what sort of something it actually is. A Snowmole it turns out to be and then Mole decides to have his supper beside it to keep it company. He even beds down beside the Snowmole and eventually falls fast asleep. How come when he wakes up, Mole is in his own bed inside their cosy home? However Mole is still concerned about Snowmole being lonely but good old Mouse has done something to make sure that isn’t so.

It’s not long before December comes around and Mouse announces that it’s time to start using the advent calendar

until, as the second episode is called, lo and behold, it’s Christmas. Despite having said that, Mole decides that the big day is a really long way away that year. Meanwhile, as they have lots of preparations to make, the friends are so busy that Christmas Eve soon arrives.

So, what is the very important thing that Mole thinks they’ve forgotten to do as they get ready for bed on 24th; or rather, several important things seemingly? Then what is the bump in the night referred to in the title of the final episode?

I suggest snuggling up with a hot chocolate and sharing this with your little ones in the run up to your own Christmas. What wonderful Christmas cards some of James’ watercolour illustrations would make.

George the Wombat

George the Wombat
Eva Papoušková and Galina Miklínová

Did you know that like all his fellow wombats, George produces cube-shaped poos? That’s when he manages to poo at all, and even more importantly do so in his potty.

Pooing in his potty is what his mum has told the little creature he must do before he can go into the forest and dig a burrow. Being an obedient marsupial, George goes and sits on his potty but sitting on your lonesome upon your potty (or otherwise) is more than a little boring.

Fortunately though it’s not long before George’s pal Fred the kangaroo hops up and invites George to join him in some grass gobbling. George explains his problem and so Fred suggests something to help shift things along within. Still nothing happens, so Fred hops off leaving the wombat to keep trying.

Next to arrive is Annie goose and she too has a suggestion, but this doesn’t do the job either.

Lizzie mouse’s tip proves equally unsuccessful

only serving to make George’s eyes almost pop out, which puzzles Daddy Wombat as he walks by.

Now Daddy wombat knows a thing or two so maybe, just maybe he can solve the poo problem once and for all so that his offspring is free to remove his botty from his potty and embark on some tunnelling.
Translated by Alexandra Büchler, this tale of friendship, helpfulness and of course, poo, is great fun to share whether or not you have a little one at the potty training stage. With its repeat refrains and gentle humour throughout the telling, a humour that is superbly underscored in Galina Miklínová’s cross-hatched illustrations showing the cuddlesome creature endeavouring to follow instructions and produce the goods, this book will delight both youngsters and adults, all of whom will relish the potty-sitting sequences.

Molly and the Shipwreck

Molly and the Shipwreck
Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson

Young islander Molly and her family star in their fifth story and once again it’s full of caring and community spirit.

It begins with Molly’s mother receiving a letter from Molly’s teacher saying that the island school might be closed down unless more children can be found. Molly’s attempts to persuade some of the island’s visitors to move there and add to the pupil role meet with no success.

Then some weeks later Molly and her father are out fishing when they come across a rickety boat in trouble. They manage to rescue those on board – a mother and three children, one just a baby and Molly’s family and the other islanders do their best to make them all feel welcome, fixing up one of the empty cottages to house them. 

Molly is keen to enrol Amina, who is about her own age, and her little brother Bo, in the island school and hopes are raised about the increased numbers.

However, not long after an official from the mainland arrives saying he’s come to collect the new arrivals to take them to the camp but giving them some hope that after a while perhaps they could return to the island. So Amina and her family have to go.

Molly and Amina keep in touch over the summer and Molly tells her new friend that she’s watching out each day for Amina’s dad. also making that dangerous journey his family have made.

Will Amina ever be reunited with her father and will the authorities allow the family to return to the island?

With an emphasis on compassion, kindness and hope, in a way that will be understood by young children, author Malachy Doyle and illustrator Andrew Whitson present an important topic that seems to have moved to the back of many people’s consciousness. With Andrew’s dramatic scenes, and Malachy’s warm words, let’s hope that this book will help bring it to the forefront once again.

Rita Wants a Witch

Rita Wants a Witch
Máire Zepf and Mr Ando

Rita is a small girl with a very big imagination and she uses it to ponder the possibilities of having a witch in the family. The witch she desires is of the wild sort and thus, instead of sending her off to bed she’d allow the child to whizz around all night on a broomstick; no household chores would be required, only her assistance with spell brewing. But said witch would never ever do mean spells, only ones like this –

she’d never give her bad dreams or scare off her pals.

What though if on the other hand, this witch turned out to be inept at tending to a poorly Rita, a meanie who wanted her apprentice to follow her unpleasant example, and whose cooking was decidedly unappetising.

There’s absolutely no knowing what might transpire if such a witch came into Rita’s life.

Better perhaps to have another think, toss out those notions of magic potions and settle for something much safer …

In addition to being a fun book for sharing with foundation stage children around Halloween time, this is a story with a maternal theme that shows just how much mums really do for their little ones. The vividness of Rita’s imagination that emerges in Máire Zepf’s first person narrative is mirrored in Mr Ando, aka Andrew Whitson’s humorous, sometimes mock scary scenes of witchy prospects for which he uses suitably bright garish hues.

Albert and the Wind

Albert and the Wind
Ian Brown and Eoin Clarke

This is a playful story about Albert, a tortoise who struggles to get his message of thanks across to the various creatures that come to his aid, rescuing items of his meal that are blown away by the swooshing wind.

First to help is a bee that proffers the leaf he’s just bumped into on the wing, Albert responds thus, “To make sure it does not blow away again, I am going to sit on it.” Before he can add his words of thanks, the bee has buzzed off.

Other helpers are in turn, a spider, a snail and a worm,

followed by a whole host of other creatures from all over the garden, some of which bring items that hadn’t been part of Albert’s meal.

The wind continues to blow and Albert and his food items are reunited, little by little until the whole meal is ready and waiting for eating.

However, Albert is still concerned that he’s not been able to show any of his helpers how grateful he is. Can he find a way to deliver his words of thanks to everyone at the same time? Ingeniously yes, thanks to the last few items left unconsumed …

This amusing tale ends with a blast that will delight young listeners and I suspect, adult sharers. With a factual page about Albert and other tortoises, and Eoin Clarke’s quirkily humorous, larger than life illustrations of the various helper minibeasts, as well as the protagonist, this is a book that readers aloud will enjoy giving voice to as much as listeners will enjoy hearing it.

Fletcher and the Rainbow

Fletcher and the Rainbow
Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke

The latest in this series featuring Fletcher and his animal friends is again a delight. Young listeners will be swept along with the little fox in his determined effort to find the rainbow before it disappears, gone in the rainy autumn mist. He hopes that if he’s able to find it he could help it shine forever rather than as his mum had said, “soon be gone”.

Through the dripping wood he goes soon coming upon birds giving themselves a final feed before setting off to fly south. They tell him that the rainbow’s end is at Hedgehog’s nest and Fletcher hastens on his way.

His search takes him next to Squirrel, also preparing for winter; then as he tumbles into the stream where Squirrel has helpfully sent him, Goose. She’s doubtful when Fletcher tells her that the rainbow has fallen in the stream but helps him look nonetheless. They do see a reflection but it’s a learning experience for Fletcher.

Finally as he hurries past the rabbits the little fox sees …

but even then the rainbow eludes him.

Stopping now, Fletcher reflects on his search and how the rainbow’s led him through the woods and he decides he can at least create a rainbow memorial …

All his friends are happy to assist and together they create the most gorgeous autumn rainbow …

Whether you want a story to introduce to young children the scientific ideas connected with rainbows or the natural world in autumn, hope and determination, or creative problem solving, this is a lovely starting point. Most important though, it’s a sweet, uplifting book for sharing and pausing to delight in the captivating, richly hued scenes of Fletcher’s journey. and that sparkling finale spread.

I Am Am Artist

I Am Am Artist
Kertu Sillaste (translated by Adam Cullen)

Who or what is an artist? That lies at the heart of this picture book by illustrator/art teacher Kertu Sillaste. My experience of teaching young children indicates that it’s not until they reach about seven that they start saying such things as “I can’t draw” when what they mean is more like “I can’t create what I consider an accurate representation of this or that” – a tiger is the exemplar this book’s creator uses – but art is so much more.
This is what the young artist main character and narrator discusses and demonstrates herein.

First, with reference to a self-portrait, he presents the variety of processes that an artist might use, ‘An artist thinks and draws and paints and glues and sketches and moulds and photographs and films and considers and constructs and assembles.’ Most important at the outset is ‘a good idea’ and this can be generated in different ways including using one’s imagination, looking at art, taking out your paints and paper or perhaps you don’t even know what sparked it but you feel so inspired that you just have to get to work right away.

I love the playful ways the boy creates memorials for his grandparents 

and others, as well as his creative putting together of found objects. 

At other times art might be story-telling through pictures, and these pictures can perhaps be about worrying events or people, or in contrast reveal what makes that particular artist happy.

Not all creative ideas reach fruition though – some remain as ideas while others might be possibilities for another day. Indeed some days can go particularly unsatisfactorily with nothing at all working out; 

but still the creative spark is re-ignited the following morning.

There’s also the consideration of revealing what you’ve done to others – what will the reaction be? … ‘An artist really needs praise’ says John. Over-ridingly though the narrator loves to make art; that is what the author hopes he’ll put across to young readers of this book and in so doing, expand their boundaries of art and being an artist. Thinking outside the box is what we want to encourage.

Undoubtedly Kertu Sillaste succeeds in her mission and I suggest this is a book to share and discuss with KS1 children especially, ‘before that “I can’t draw’ notion takes root.

Blow, Wind, Blow!

Blow, Wind, Blow!
Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou

This is a new addition to The Wild Wanderers series.

Who wouldn’t want to be swept up in the breeze and follow Wind on a lyrical journey as it gains heat and strength from Earth and then continues on its way scattering ‘leaves like a sneeze’, moving on to turn Dutch windmills,

lifting up a balloon in Paris, travelling on across the still, quiet Pacific towards the deserts of Africa creating sandstorms in its wake as it goes on across the Atlantic, cyclonic now

wreaking havoc in Florida until, cooled by a cold blast from the Andes, Wind gradually calms, gently dispersing seeds

till finally it’s all blown out and ready to find a place to rest …

With its repeat refrain, ‘Go further, go farther / grow big and grow strong and / Blow, Wind, Blow!’ readers and listeners are treated to an exhilarating worldwide adventure related through Dom Conlon’s poem that in combination with Anastasia Izlesou’s powerful images of the elemental force and the consequences of its movements, create a mesmerising fusion of art and science.

Youngsters will love joining in the words that urge Wind to go, blow or slow in this book that has great classroom potential, but first and foremost share it for its own sake.

See What I Can Do!

See What I Can Do!
Jon Roberts and Hannah Rounding

Everybody is different: we all have our individual strengths and weaknesses and that’s part of what makes our world such an exciting place.

Here’s a picture book that embraces difference in an entirely positive way showing how, as one of the characters, Molly, says on the first spread, ”being different doesn’t mean you can’t do anything you want!”

The author goes on to introduce three children with autism who communicate in a variety of ways including in one case, by using Makaton; and then two boys who have dyslexia who explain how this affects them.

I loved what Caitlin and Anna’s friend says in response to the two girls telling her they have dyspraxia and what this means to each one them: “ Well if you ask me, it’s not weird. It means you have your own style. And that’s cool!”

We also hear accounts from children with dyscalculia, ADHD, Down’s syndrome,

Cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy; others have hearing loss, low vision, spina bifida, epilepsy, brittle bone disease or asthma.

One thing they all have in common is a ‘can do’ approach to life that while acknowledging they face some challenges, emphasises what they have achieved and hope to do in the future.

Inclusive and inspiring, this beautifully illustrated picture book ought to be in every primary classroom and on family bookshelves.

Ceri & Deri: Pudding for Desert / A Little Bit of Courage

Ceri & Deri: Pudding for Desert
Max Low

Best friends Ceri and Deri have a particular penchant for all things sweet. Their favourite shopping places to visit in town are Delwen’s Domain of Desserts and Peredur’s Pudding Parlour, each of which offers delicacies they can’t resist.

Strangely though the shops are next to each other and thus far, relations between the two vendors has been amicable. Not so today though: as Ceri and Deri approach they hear an argument in full flow.

At first it’s only insults that fly back and forth as the friends attempt to get served; but pretty soon it’s a case of flying puds and hurtling desserts. Moreover, the situation is exacerbated by various other individuals who show up – D.I Nigel, followed by the mayor

and several others each of whom takes a side in the escalating drama.

Horrified at the waste of good food, Ceri and Deri leap skywards to catch some treats to pop in their mouths.

Can there possibly be a truce between the two sides before both establishments completely run out of goodies? Perhaps, if somebody (or somebodies) can think of a compromise …

As always the cat and dog duo offer some gentle (or in this case somewhat less gentle) learning concerning different ways of seeing along the way, but it never gets in the way of the fun story, illustrated in Max Low’s characteristic expressive, gently humorous colourful small town scenes.

A Little Bit of Courage
Claire Alexander
Happy Yak

This is my first encounter with the Ploofers though it’s their second story, and they’re learning to fly.

There’s one of their number though, a little one, that is feeling fearful and too scared to become part of this exciting new adventure. So will the others leave Little One behind on the ground? Of course not; that isn’t what friends do.

Back comes Toasty to have a chat and offer some words of encouragement to help Little One lose those jelly wobbles. With Toasty’s support, can Little summon up sufficient courage to take that vital leap?

A gentle look at fear, finding the courage to step out of your comfort zone, the importance of teamwork, as well as a celebration of difference Ploofer style.

Simply illustrated and told in a suitably conversational voice, Claire Alexander provides an empowering message for little ones and adults too.

Mouse & Mole: The Secret of Happiness

Mouse and Mole: The Secret of Happiness
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew

What better to start the latest in this charming series of stories about the friendship between two endearing woodland animals than with A Good Read. There’s a slight problem though, for Mouse’s constant giggles and Mole’s failure to get himself comfortable, not to mention having an attack of hiccups

followed by an itch is, let’s say, not conducive to getting lost in a book. Can the two find a solution and finally give their reading matter their undivided attention?

This Way and That sees Mole donning his walking boots and setting out for a walk. But what is intended as a happy-go-lucky stroll in the spring air turns into an exceedingly irritating series of errands for Mouse that send him hither and thither

until eventually, Mole has his very own point to make as he sallies forth YET AGAIN!

In the third and final tale, Mole tries desperately to remember the contents of his previous night’s dream wherein he knew The Secret of Happiness. This elusive thing that sort of ‘bubbled up, … sort of billowed, … sort of bloomed from somewhere deep inside me’ has Mole searching around all day until his friends arrive for tea. Can they perhaps assist him in finding the answer to the puzzle? …

As always, the gentle humour in Joyce Dunbar’s thought-provoking story telling is given a delightfully nostalgic feel thanks to James Mayhew’s charmingly elegant illustrations. Whether as bedtime reading for little ones or read solo by older children, these are small literary gems.

ABC of Opera: The Academy of Barmy Composers Classical

ABC of Opera: The Academy of Barmy Composers: Classical
Mark Llewelyn Evans and Karl Davies

This is the second in the exciting series that presents opera and its composers to youngsters. It’s written by Mark Llewelyn Davies, professional opera singer and founder/creative director of ABC of Opera Productions, a touring company that travels the UK introducing children to the wonders of the opera through music and storytelling.

Now Megan and Jack are on a school trip to London’s Natural History Museum when all of a sudden they find themselves separated from their classmates and heading to the museum vaults. It’s there that Jack accidentally disturbs their old friend, the time-travelling, multilingual Trunk. Trunk tells them he’s on a mission concerning some Haydn manuscripts and before you can say ‘classical’ they’re whisked up and away, and back in time, first stop the Academy to return those manuscripts to the man who introduces himself as “Herr Hectic Haydn”.

From there an adventure unfolds in Salzburg, Vienna and Paris, in the classical period of opera (1750-1820).
There are encounters with Mozart (aka Windy Wolfie), Beethoven and Tortellini Rossini and they all find themselves playing a part in Rossini’s La Cenerentola (an operatic Cinderella story)

as well as confronting the evil Queen of the Night. But will Jack and Megan end up losing their heads? YIKES! There’s only one person who might be able to save them and get them back to their own time …

With its “Any Body Can’ message and Karl Davies’ zany illustrations, this book is madcap fun and highly informative: what better way to learn some music history, a host of musical terms, details of the lives of several famous composers and even why sign language is important.

Molly and the Lockdown

Molly and the Lockdown
Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson

Molly and her mum and dad are island dwellers only now Dad is stuck on the mainland because the island – like many other parts of the world – is in lockdown. Inevitably Molly misses her dad who is staying with her Uncle Ed, though she talks to him on the phone and promises to do everything she can to help her mum.

Despite all the precautions taken, the virus reaches the island making a few people so sick they have to be taken to the mainland hospital.

With her mum assisting Nurse Ellen, there’s plenty to keep Molly busy. She does almost all the jobs around the house, cares for the dog and the hens, and makes masks for the islanders.

The lockdown drags on. School is closed so Molly chats with her friends on the phone, reads and rereads her books, does her jigsaws super fast, improves her fiddle playing and hears her Uncle Ed’s bagpipes in the background whenever her Dad rings.

Eventually school reopens, albeit with precautionary measures in place, they hear good news about a vaccine

and finally, everybody goes down to the harbour to welcome home Molly’s father – hurrah!

Most of us have experienced a spirit of community during the last year: this is encapsulated in Malachy Doyle’s story of the lockdown, COVID 19 and the affects on a particular family and their small community. Molly’s anxiousness and concern – feelings that so many children have suffered – comes across clearly in Andrew Whitson’s, richly patterned illustrations. So too does the wonderful warmth of the islanders coping as best they can with the crisis.

An ideal book for sharing with children as we begin to emerge from the restrictions; it offers a great opportunity for them to talk of their own experiences and to share future hopes.

Gaspard’s Foxtrot

Gaspard’s Foxtrot
Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew

Gaspard the Fox returns for a third adventure and it’s a totally unexpected one.

While chatting to his friends Peter the cat and Flinty the dog he learns from the latter that his owner Honey is taking him to a concert ‘about London’s wildlife’ in Hyde Park that very evening and suggests that Gaspard should come along.
So when Honey and Flinty head for the number 38 bus-stop Gaspard tags along behind.

As Honey boards the bus she drops her scarf. Gaspard catches it and jumps aboard intending to return it when they get off.
Then follows a journey through London – we’re given the fox’s eye view in James Mayhew’s exquisite illustrations- that takes them through Islington with its iconic war memorial,

past China Town, into the heart of theatre land, passing Piccadilly with its famous statue, all the while the recorded voice announcing where they are. Suddenly he hears “Hyde Park Corner’ and off pile the passengers. In the crowd, Gaspard almost loses sight of Honey and Flinty but just in time he makes his exit and follows the masses to the centre of the park

where he finds a suitable spot to stop, wait, hope and listen to the music.

Onto the stage walks a man Gaspard recognises as living close to his den and he’s holding what looks like a white stick. He tells the audience that the next piece of music is so new it’s yet to have a title.

What happens thereafter is truly amazing, but I won’t spoil this eventful, gently humorous story at the heart of which is friendship.

It’s full of lovely details about nature, London (Peter talking of his peregrinations makes me miss it all the more at present) and of course, the music; the map endpapers are terrific too.

How exciting to learn that the story has been adapted by composer Jonathan Dove and is due to be performed with Zeb narrating and James as illustrator.

Swim, Shark, Swim!

Swim, Shark, Swim!
Dom Conlon and Anastasia Izlesou

In the second of this Wild Wanderers series we join Shark – a blacktip reef shark – in an exploration that takes him on a long, long journey through the oceans of the world searching for a home. Seemingly it’s an almost circular swim that starts and finishes in the waters around Australia.

On his journey he encounters all manner of marine creatures including penguins and a tiger shark off the southern Cape of Africa,

and an angel shark in European waters.

There are blue sharks, octopus and squid in North American waters while off South America lurk Hammerheads. In the Pacific he sees dolphins, humans and in the kelp forest a Great White shark. Off the coast of Hawaii manta rays and green sea turtles dive and dance; 

then finally there is the Great Barrier Reef and a host of other blacktip sharks all of which help the reef in its struggle to survive.

Totally mesmeric is Dom Conlon’s poetry of motion, which cleverly weaves a sub-aquatic non-fiction story that is ideal for sharing with children either in KS1 or KS2. Anastasia Izlesou’s visual images too, transport readers and listeners to an underwater world of wondrous richness and beauty.

As well as the factual information contained in Shark’s odyssey there is a map tracing his path and a double spread of facts about sharks and the other marine animals.

When Jelly Had a Wobble / Ceri & Deri: Get Your Skates On

When Jelly Had a Wobble
Michelle Robinson and Tom Knight

Should you or should you not let others know how you are feeling? That dilemma lies at the heart of this story.

Jelly, the main protagonist definitely has some feelings of self-doubt he’s not eager to share when he’s expected to tag along with all the other dinners heading to the Kitchen Hall of Fame keen to discover which of their number will receive the golden crown for “Best in Show’. He’s the only one showing any reluctance to participate in this culinary extravaganza.

In fact he’s all of a wobble, unable to ‘take the tension’ despite the enthusiasm and determination of fellow foodies that he be there for the big announcement.

So determined are they that some are even ready to offer some calming techniques to help with his wibble-wobble nerves …

Imagine Jelly’s surprise then, when the announcement is made.

With its repeat ‘jelly on a plate’ refrain to join in with, and plenty of speech bubbles along the way, Michelle Robinson’s jolly rhyming narrative reads aloud well. Tom Knight’s foodie characters are a whacky lot with their googly eyes that clearly express how they’re feeling in his bright, funny scenes. The combination of words and pictures provides a taste bud tickling tale about being yourself to share with foundation stage children and little ones at home.

Ceri & Deri: Get Your Skates On
Max Low

In the latest of Max Low’s gently educational series featuring striped moggy Ceri and her spotty pooch pal, Deri, the two help Dai Duck learn some important life lessons.

Dai is absolutely determined to be the best at anything and everything he tries and wants it to happen straightaway. So when he tries his hand (s), feet and brain at skateboarding, spelling, music making, DIY and rugby

and a host of other activities, the result is disaster. The trouble is Dai just isn’t prepared to put in all the hard work, perseverance and positive thinking that’s required when you want to be successful at something.

Until that is, Ceri and Deri step in and introduce him to Barbara Bear, ace skateboarder. She explains how her success is down to all the tumbles she’d taken as a learner acting not as a deterrent, but a motivation and an opportunity to spend time having fun with her friends. Can a similar attitude work for Dai? You bet …

The inherent humour and Max Low’s distinctive, bold illustrative style make for another enjoyable Ceri and Deri experience.

A House for Christmas Mouse / The Lightbringers / Magnificent Mabel and the Christmas Elf

A House for Christmas Mouse
Rebecca Harry
Nosy Crow

On a snowy Christmas Eve an excited Mouse arrives at Treetop Forest in search of somewhere to call home – somewhere cosy and warm, with food and friends.

Coming upon a little rabbit outside his burrow she knows she must stop and help him light a fire within and so she does. She also stops to assist Fox in his cake making

and Bear with hanging up Christmas decorations, but having done so it’s almost sundown and Mouse still hasn’t found her new home.

Suddenly a gust of wind sends her tumbling into the deep snow and when she gets up, there before her is something that might just be the perfect place to make her home. On closer inspection it seems far from perfect though, so off she goes to search for leaves to make a bed. As she looks, who should come hurrying by but Bunny, followed soon after by Fox and then bear, each carrying something with them.

Where are they going and why?

With its wintry woodland setting and sparkly touches, Rebecca Harry’s lovely gentle tale of kindness repaid is just right for sharing with the very young this festive season.

The Lightbringers
Karin Celestine

This is the first of a new four book series, Tales of the Turning Year. With a combination of folklore and nature the author weaves an uplifting, hopeful story that retells an ancient renewal tale found in various parts of the world in honour of the winter solstice. Assuredly during this current covid lockdown we would all welcome a visit from The Lightbringers – small beings that gather embers and put them into their seed lanterns.

Karin explains how the seasons change as the earth breathes, with a particular focus on the increasing darkening with the approach of December 21st, the winter solstice – a turning point that heralds the spring and longer, lighter days.

Her words are simple but impactful, accompanying her atmospheric, beautifully composed photographic tableaux of the natural world populated by her felted animals, particularly the Lightbringers led by Hare – the caller. With its reassuring final, ‘The light will always return because it is guarded by small beings and they are steadfast in their dark’ this is a book to share and be cheered by in these dark days.

For new solo readers is

Magnificent Mabel and the Christmas Elf
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Mabel of Rabbit Riot fame returns to relate three further episodes in which she demonstrates her magnificence. In the first we find our young narrator in the sweetest of moods as she unearths her Christmas Elf from the box of decorations. She tries to get her classmate Edward into the Christmas spirit too but without much success; but she’s more successful in allowing her naughty little elf get her into big trouble over Christmas presents.

In the second story Mabel tries her very best to befriend a new boy and also finds out that once in a while school can be really interesting.

It’s toddler-minding that gets our young heroine into a tizzy in the final episode, and that’s after she’s declared that looking after toddlers is ‘easy and fun’. Really – Even cousin William?…

Huge entertainment from such a delightful character: Ruth Quayle really does appear to have the ability to see things from the viewpoint of six-year-olds, and Julia Christians’ black and white illustrations are a spirited delight.

Little Bunny’s Book of Thoughts

Little Bunny’s Book of Thoughts
Steve Smallman

This is exactly what we all need right now: a little book to have to hand when everything is getting on top of us, the pandemic news is getting worse day by day, and the thought of not seeing friends and relations looms large. It’s so easy to start feeling like Little Bunny at the start of this book – lost and alone, all at sea.

But as the little creature slowly, slowly discovers through mindfulness, that looking at things from a different perspective,

perhaps by something as seemingly simple as looking outwards instead of inwards, it’s possible to turn those negative thoughts into positive ones.

Yes, better days will surely come and in the meantime, it’s wise to return to Bunny’s reminder as he shares his thoughts in a rhyming narrative, that ‘life’s not as bad as it seems’.

I was fascinated to read how this book of Steve’s developed as he was experimenting with a new technique using a soft pencil. The outcome is a pocket /handbag size book that is assuredly one to give and one to keep. I will certainly be doing both in the coming weeks.

Mouse & Mole: A Fresh Start

Mouse & Mole: A Fresh Start
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew

This is the fifth book in the enchanting series that stars close friends Mole and Mouse. Now though, in the first of the three stories, the two decide that perhaps they’ve become just a little too close and are taking one another for granted. In order for their friendship not to pall they agree to avoid one another for an entire day, however challenging that might be. Then their friendship can start all over again.
Mole insists the manner of Mouse’s execution of the plan is kept to himself.
The following morning Mouse receives an invitation to visit Hedgehog for elevenses so, making sure to avoid Mole, off he goes leaving a note as to his whereabouts. Mole meanwhile is late to rise – as usual and on discovering no sign of Mouse, is disturbed.

An exhaustive search of their home reveals no sign of his best pal. Distraught at the possibility that Mouse has forsaken him and found a new friend, he drives off to pay a call on several other of the woodland animals leaving a message for Mouse with each. The last call he pays is to …

Hip-Dip-Dip sees Mole spoilt for choice when Mouse decides to buy his bestie the much-wanted toy sailing boat he’s seen in Hare’s toyshop window. Mole’s original longing was for a blue boat with a white sail but when they discover there are other possibilities, Mole gets into such a tizzy that they leave without making a purchase.

The following day is perfect for boat sailing on the pond so it’s back to the toyshop where Hare informs them that a mystery buyer has bought the blue boat over the phone. Oh dear! Now what will happen …

In the final tale A Bolt from the Blue, the two friends get caught in a thunderstorm. With the possibility of a lightning strike, should they or shouldn’t they take shelter under a large tree? Or is it better to make a dash for home. Perhaps neither is the best way to deal with a sudden downpour, if so what will Mouse and Mole decide to do?

The magic still holds good in these latest short stories; surprises, warmth and gentle humour abounds and there’s that characteristic element of surprise in each episode which brings such delight to readers and listeners alike. James’ delectably detailed illustrations combined with Joyce’s seemingly effortless storytelling offer a perfect snuggle up on a dark evening story share delight.

The New Girl

The New Girl
Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher

Softly spoken, sensitively rendered and enormously moving is Nicola and Cathy’s latest picture book narrated by a member of the class into which the new girl arrives ‘wrapped up like a parcel’ and not understanding a word that was said by her classmates.

Almost unbelievably, the newcomer is set apart to eat her lunch on account of its ‘funny’ smell and as school ends she walks away quite alone. This cruel behaviour continues day after day as winter arrives bringing with it dark and dreariness.

Then one day into that dark something wonderful appears on the teacher’s desk.

Each day after that another one appears somewhere in the classroom bringing with it feelings of warmth and cheer until the beautiful objects stop coming.

At their teacher’s suggestion, the children start trying to make their own paper flowers, the narrator unsuccessfully … until the new girl shows her how.

Flower making isn’t all that’s learned in that classroom on that particular day though; so too is a new language and the importance of accepting difference, of understanding and of friendship …

Cathy Fisher’s illustrations are startlingly realistic, full of feeling and atmosphere – the ideal complement to Nicola’s text.

Primary classrooms should definitely add this to their collections.

Early Years Picture Book Shelf

How About a Night Out?
Sam Williams and Matt Hunt
Boxer Books

We join a kitty cat embarking on a nocturnal excursion through the city where  adventures aplenty await. There are friends to meet for a ‘catercall’ upon the wall,

a roundabout to ride upon, birds to scare and much more. A ‘night to sing about’ claims our adventurer but all too soon the sun comes up and it’s time to head for home and some city kitty slumbers.

Delivered in jaunty rhyming couplets and Matt Hunt’s alluring art showing the cat’s journey against the inky dark sky, this will surely please early years listeners.

What Colour Is Night?
Grant Snider
Chronicle Books

If you’re thinking night is black, then have another think. You certainly will having read Grant Snider’s poetic nocturnal exploration. Herein he shows us the multitude of colours that a closer look will reveal. There’s blue for a start, ‘a big yellow moon beginning to rise’, the fireflies glowing gold in the park.

But that’s just the start: there are ‘Fat brown moths dancing in yellow streetlights’, a whole city lit with red neon signs, the green-eyed glow of prowling raccoons, silver stars spilling across the sky above the barely visible countryside.

The silent stillness of his scenes though, is not confined to the outdoors. Inside we see the grey face of a clock, the shapes afloat in the bowl holding a midnight snack are yellow blue and pink; while through the window we start to see the moon’s rings and outdoors once more are ‘all the night’s colours in one moonbow’.

I’m pretty sure that young readers and listeners will envy the sleeping child picked up and taken on a dream flight through pink and purple clouds over the city aglow with colours. Snider offers an ideal excuse for little ones to request a delay to their own slumbers in order to view those ‘colours unseen’.

What Can You See?
Jason Korsner and Hannah Rounding
I Like to Put Food in My Welly
Jason Korsner and Max Low

What Can You See? invites little ones to develop their observation skills as they focus on in turn a table laid for tea, a lounge, the garden, the sky, the jungle, a flower and a host of other focal points to locate the objects named in the relevant verse in Hannah Rounding’s delectable illustrations.
In I Like to Put Food in My Welly, playful topsy-turvies result from putting butter on the bread, pulling a rabbit from a hat, climbing an apple tree and other starting points, each scenario being presented in Max Low’s zany sequences (Did I see two of Max’s popular characters making a guest appearance?)

Engaging rhymes and art: just right for putting across the ‘language is fun’ message to pre-schoolers.